In the past few months, there’s been an earthquake in New Zealand, an even bigger one in Japan followed by a devastating tsunami, the civil war in Libya, and the continued violence in the Ivory Coast. More close to home good friends’ family members have become very sick or passed away, and my personal dream of grad school following Georgia has been buffeted by the winds of calamity. We all accept that misfortune touches every life. But, when you are living abroad and personal adversity strikes, what do you do?
In many ways dealing with tribulation overseas can be very different from home. Especially in a developing country like Georgia internet may be only accessible intermittently and phone calls home will be very expensive. Your trusted mechanisms of coping- old friends, old haunts, and family-may be completely cut off. Back when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer we used to say that if we had a nickel every time a PCV complained of being lonely we’d be rich. Here in Georgia we aren’t quite as isolated from our peers, but the sentiment still applies. Keeping in touch with sick family members, seeing someone one last time, and repairing a broken heart are just plain more difficult abroad – no matter how comfortable you feel you’ve gotten with an area.
Yet at the same time many factors involved in dealing with trials stay the same. Even in the U.S. there’s no guarantee you’ll make it to all life’s important events. You come as quickly as you can and pray for the best, no matter where you are. Connecting to the world around us is a part of living life anywhere and when old friends aren’t present you talk to new ones. If you’re all out of normal comfort foods, you resort to your new favorites. As well, when you just need to scream it out, you can rail at God, life and/or fate just as easily in Georgia as you can in the U.S. The fact is you aren’t safe anywhere from a callous boyfriend, a physical assault, or a broken dream and bad personal luck doesn’t make the people of Georgia worth any less of your time.
Volunteering in Georgia isn’t for its karmic benefits. We never know what life will bring no matter where we are or what we are doing. Especially if the world isn’t just, giving back kindness and love into it anyway is one of the most important expressions of self that you can make. Also as much as its cliché to admit, it seems unwise to ignore the perspective that life in a developing country like Georgia can give you. It’s not that some people were put on this earth with luck worse than yours only so that you can appreciate the good things you do have. Their lives are their own, yet we aren’t islands, we all affect each other. And part of living overseas is seeing more clearly where you came from.
A good friend of mine was in New Zealand’s recent quake. She talked about living life for a few weeks afterword in disaster preparedness mode – always wondering whether she should step away from a nearby overhang, and or not walk so close to the edge lest another earthquake hit. Her solution is mine too. Breathe. Then become present. For me it’s easier abroad than anywhere else, because I am more irrevocably drawn towards the now, when it’s new. For no reason after school today a fellow teacher bought me a present. Little bits of Georgian kindness slip out everywhere, whether your mood is happy or sad. Good things still happen, every day. Part of working abroad can sometimes be working to cope with personal misfortune cut off from your normal avenues of relief. However in doing so you often find strength you didn’t know you had. Whereas the routine of life abroad can bring out your old self, it’s in the overcoming misfortune abroad that in yourself you can find something new.